By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A $250,000 ‘security for costs’ order is “the kiss of death” for those challenging Bimini’s controversial cruise ship terminal, a leading environmental consultant alleging that “fear of the Government” made raising these funds impossible.
Gail Woon, founder of EARTHCARE, in an affidvait filed on Friday to support the Bimini Blue Coalition’s bid to overturn the Supreme Court costs order, alleged that many Biminites failed to publicly oppose Resorts World’s development for fear their livelihoods and incomes might be jeopardised.
Ms Woon claimed that while “just about every business owner” on Bimini backed the Coalition’s campaign against the cruise ship terminal and jetty, none could be aligned with it for fear of incurring the Government’s wrath.
Arguing that she was aiming to “put into context the challenges faced” by Family Island residents in mounting Judicial Review actions, such as the Coalition’s, Ms Woon alleged: “A substantial order for security, as was made in this case, is like the kiss of death to them seeking justice through the courts.”
A marine biologist involved in environmental issues since 1980, Ms Woon said she had been involved in efforts to protect Bimini’s mangroves, wetlands and reefs since 1997.
This, she indicated, had allowed her to build the friendships and relationships giving an insight into Biminite culture and how the islanders thought.
Ms Woon alleged: “Essentially, everything in Bimini revolves around fear and money, and almost exclusively the very challenging job of earning a meagre living.
“People in Bimini struggle. They have to provide for themselves and their families. They need income. They need jobs. They rarely, if ever, publicly or openly do or say anything that might jeopardise whatever means they have, or hope to have, for earning money.
“The community perceives that the Government is 100 per cent backing Resorts World, and therefore anything they may publicly say against Resorts World would also be regarded as saying against the Government.”
Analysing the implications of all this for the Coalition’s ability to raise funds to pay the $250,000 security Order, Ms Woon further alleged: “Few people, therefore, openly support any organisation that is perceived as anti-government.
“Everyone fears the Government. People are reliant on the Government for Business Licences, work permits, etc. Resorts World holds out the promise of jobs. No one who hopes to perhaps secure a job there is going to say, publicly, anything against the resort.
“Privately they can be candid; publicly, they can’t. Shop owners need customers. They aren’t going to say anything that might alienate their customers, and some of their customers might be Resorts,” she added.
“Just about every business owner will say that they agree with what the appellant is saying or doing, but they can’t be officially aligned or affiliated with anything perceived as anti-government.”
Giving specific examples of how this worked, Ms Woon alleged: “The most common refrain is: ‘I live here. I know all of these people. I work with these people. I need their business’.
“For instance, the [Coalition] is aware of a Biminite, who for years has been devastated by what’s being allowed to happen, and is both a shop owner and a real estate agent. He was going to go public with something awhile back, and was told not to by his employers as it was not good for business.” Ms Woon continued: “Bonefish guides, who are more aware than most of the importance of preserving and protecting the North Bimini Marine Reserve, are afraid to publicly oppose Resorts because Resorts wouldn’t then recommend their guide services to their guests. They could well lose out on future business, which they have to have to live.
“There is also the fear of being ostracised by churches should they [Biminites] publicly speak out against Resorts. Just about everyone here is deeply immersed in a religious community. A number of ministers on Bimini feel, and have told their parishioners, that God sent Resorts to Bimini to save the island and its people, and Biminites should rejoice that they’re here and pray for their success.
“There’s fear of alienating family as well. It is a very small community, and everyone is related to someone. Those someones may be fairly ‘high up’ in the Government or work for Resorts.”
Adding this up, Ms Woon alleged that it collectively created a major barrier to the Coalition raising the funds necessary to cover the $250,000 ‘security for costs’ demand.
“The bottom line is that Biminites are afraid of the political might of the Government, and the financial might and influence of the developers, and they regard the Government as 100 per cent behind and with the developers,” she added.
“The Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister, openly support the developer at public relations events, and the Prime Minister, in particular, has been openly critical of local environmentalists.”
The Bimini Blue Coalition had, to-date, been forced to rely on “private begging and solicitations” to raise its monies. Given the local population’s “general proverty”, Ms Woon alleged it had been forced to rely heavily on second home owners, who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of political reprisals.
“Most Biminites do not have an extra nickel to donate to anything,” she added. “A further big impediment to soliciting funds from people ‘in the know’ is that few people think Resorts World can be stopped.
“Although many Biminites support the appellant, most firmly believe that the cruise ship terminal will be built regardless of what anyone wants or does or what their rights are.
“People are reluctant to donate money to what they perceive as a ‘lost cause’,” Ms Woon further alleged. “And it’s hard to tell a potential donor that in effect they are probably contributing to the greater good, when all they want is for their money to help protect and preserve Bimini.
“This has been especially so after the court ordered these huge amounts of security in favour of the Government and the developer. They now feel that even the courts, their last resort, are against them.”
The Coalition is hoping to overturn the ‘security for costs’ Order at a March 25, 2014, hearing before the Court of Appeal. It wants the $250,000 awarde reduced to zero, arguing that Justice Hartman Longley’s initial decision was “excessive and irrational”.
The Order was made so the Coalition paid into escrow a sum intended to cover the Government’s legal costs in contesting the Judicial Review. The cruise dock opponents have also filed papers in the Supreme Court seeking to drop Resorts World Bimini and its affiliates as parties to the Judicial Review.